“If I only get one chance…I might as well go 120 percent,” Gill said. Passionate and high-spirited but low on funding, he submitted his first short film to different festivals, including the Hollywood Black Film Festival, Hollyshorts and the Haydenfilms Online Film Festival. His entry to Haydenfilms.com would showcase his film worldwide, uniting him with filmmakers across the globe.
Film students like Gill take a risk when they submit their work to festivals. The fees alone, ranging from $20 to $100 per entry, can deter a student barely getting by on loans. “If you’re shackled with huge amounts of debt, it’s really hard to go out there and fulfill your dreams, especially if filmmaking is your goal,” he said.
Growing up in Portland, Ore., Gill never had the opportunity to attend expensive private schools. Finding the money to support himself was always a challenge. His mother, along with his own “self-fortitude,” were his powerhouse. “The odds can be stacked against the poor. You have to have motivation. You have to have drive,” Gill said. He graduated from Temple University and went on to University of California, San Diego, to pursue a master’s degree in acting.
His first film, “My Turtle’s Name is Dudley,” an undergrad thesis project, was funded entirely on loans. “There were a lot of times where I wanted to stop, or I wanted to say no one’s going to want to see this, no one’s going to care about this project…you put so much money and time and sweat and tears in this thing, you at least have to submit it out there. The rewards that film festivals offer can outweigh the fees and DVD production costs. “You want your film and work to be showcased in a viable, legitimate platform,” Gill said. He applied to several festivals; among them, the Haydenfilms Online Film Festival.
So what made the Online Film Festival worth the entry? “One of the great things about the Haydenfilms Online Film Festival [sic] is that people from all over can see,” he said. “There were films from America, France, Latin America. You got to go and see these individuals’ work. That was one of the things that drew me.” The opportunity to view each film, along with the site’s commenting feature, allowed Gill to receive feedback. “You’re like wow, this is what this guy did with $6,000; I need to step my game up. I need to stretch my creative rubber band even further,” he said.
Gill won the $10,000 grand prize, but the money was not the only benefit he gained from competing. Entering festivals “gives you credibility in a way that some other platforms can’t do,” he said. “There’s a big difference between saying ‘Hey my name is Johnny Gill and I’m shooting a film,’ as opposed to ‘I’m Johnny Gill, I had a film at Sundance, I had a film at Haydenfilms.’”
Like Gill’s first film, The Haydenfilms Online Film Festival is the product of a thesis. Founder and President of Haydenfilms and the Haydenfilms Institute (HFI), Hayden Craddolph, visualized an online community for filmmakers that would give them the opportunity to submit and watch films on a global level.
“I love chatting it up with Hayden,” Gill said. He was taken by what Craddolph said about his thesis project—that is, Haydenfilms was a good idea when he created it to benefit him, but it became a great idea when he launched Haydenfilms to help others. “The fact that Hayden has that kind of depth speaks volumes about him,” Gill said.
After earning his master’s degree in acting, Gill was picked up by NBC. He now plays the role of Damien Winslow on the show “Harry’s Law,” starring Kathy Bates. “She’s so full of wisdom. It radiates from her,” he said regarding his Oscar-winning co-star. When working for NBC, “The positives are everything you could imagine,” Gill said.
Gill’s drive has yet to shift from maximum to cruising speeds. He is looking at a future in acting, storytelling, and possibly legislation. Festivals, along with a solid educational background, are a necessity for filmmakers jumping from school to employment. His success today would have been impossible without the forces that spurred him onward. The Haydenfilms Online Film Festival, he said, “was part of that push.”